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Aitkin Countq shipwrecks 
£ Project Report 

Ann Merriman 
Christopher Olson 


1 JTT« V * V 

Ann Merriman, Christopher Olson, and Maritime Heritage Minnesota 


Maritime Heritage Minnesota (MHM) thanks the People of Minnesota for their support of 
the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant program, part of the Clean Water, 
Land and Legacy Amendment; without the MHCH Grant MHM received to conduct this 
survey, the work could not have been completed. MHM would also like to acknowledge 
the Grants Office Staff at the Minnesota Historical Society for their assistance and we 
thank Scott Anfinson and Bruce Koenen of the Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) 
for their input. The MHM staff spent many hours at the Minnesota Historical Society 
Library and we appreciate their helpful and knowledgeable staff. MHM digitized the one 
MNHS image presented in this report. MHM also thanks Aitkin County landowners Joan 
Christensen, Vernon Terry, Bert Watson, and Kyle Watson for their generosity. MHM 
thanks Ardy and Jack Becklin for their in-kind donation to this project. Lastly, MHM 
thanks our Board Members Deb Handschin and Steven R. Hack for their efforts and a 
special thanks goes to MHM Chair Michael F. Kramer for his in-kind donation to this 

Cover: The Andy Gibson wreck as seen from the stern during low water conditions in 2009. 




Ann Merriman, Christopher Olson, and Maritime Heritage Minnesota 



Maritime Heritage Minnesota (MHM) conducted a side and down-imaging sonar survey 
of Aitkin County in August 2010 as part of the Mississippi River Aitkin County Survey 
(MRACS) Project. With the completion of the MRACS Project, the 104-mile portion of 
the Mississippi River in Aitkin County was the first section of any body of water in 
Minnesota to be systematically surveyed archaeologically using sonar. Prior to the 
MRACS Project, two steamboat wrecks sites had been identified within Aitkin County's 
portion of the Mississippi River, the Andy Gibson (21-AK0109) and Swan (21-AK0084) 
in Aitkin. MHM identified three maritime archaeological sites during the MRACS Project: 
the Mississippi Landing Railroad Spur and Bridge Remains Site (21-AK0115), the 
Mississippi Landing Logging Pier Site (21-AK0116), and the Sandy River Steamboat 
Crib Site (21-AK0117). MHM also identified 40 submerged anomalies that may be 
human-made objects during the survey. Six of these anomalies were targeted during 
the Aitkin County Shipwrecks (ACS) Project for further scrutiny and a further goal of this 
project was to determine the port side survival of the Andy Gibson wreck site using 
SCUBA. This report presents the findings of the ACS Project. For more information 
about MHM's Headwaters Mississippi archaeology and maritime history projects see the 
2008 Nautical Archaeological Assessment of Steamer Wrecks Swan (21AK84) and 
Andy Gibson (21AK109) in Aitkin, Minnesota, the Mississippi River Aitkin County Survey 
Report, the Andy Gibson Excavation and NRHP Nomination, and the Andy Gibson 
Starboard Gunwale and Deck Excavation report. 

The Aitkin County Shipwrecks Project 

Maritime Heritage Minnesota designed the ACS Project to be completed within five 
workdays utilizing the MHM staff and two volunteer divers with the assumption that the 
river water would be high in late summer 2012. In July 2012 this was true, with the 
Mississippi and its tributaries over-flowing, exceeding flood stage. In Aitkin, anything 
about 12 feet is considered flood stage and the water rose to over 18.5 feet. Therefore, 
the MHM staff could not begin the work in July as was planned. During August the river 
kept dropping and by mid-September, the Mississippi River water levels were extremely 
low, providing the best conditions for investigating river silt and mud - and no volunteer 
help was required and scheduling was not an issue. 

Captain George H. Houghton and His Steamboat Line 

Pioneer steamboatman Captain George H. Houghton began his career on the 
Minnesota River in 1857 where he owned and operated the small 45-ton sidewheeler 
Antelope constructed in Kasota, MN. He ran his steamboat between St. Paul and 
Chaska until 1863. Houghton then owned and captained the 94-ton sidewheel steamer 
Mollie Mohler built in Carver, MN in 1864. Houghton worked on the Minnesota River 
through the 1865 commercial season (Hughes 1905, 144, 153, 158-159; Lytle and 
Holdcamper 1975, 11; Shakopee Argus 1864; Way 1994, 25). Commercial traffic on the 
Minnesota River fell drastically by 1870 due to the establishment of railroad lines west 
of the Twin Cities. At that time, Houghton moved his interests to the Headwaters 
Mississippi River and constructed the steamer Pokegama in Sauk Rapids. MHM must 
note here that the construction of Pokegama in Sauk Rapids is doubtful since the 
steamer would have to get over the waterfall in Little Falls to operate. There is no lock at 
Little Falls and portaging the steamboat seems unlikely - but we must add, not 
impossible. Regardless, Houghton launched the steamer in April 1870 and operated her 
between Little Falls and Pokegama Falls for a time, then between Aitkin and Grand 
Rapids. Pokegama burned while moored in Aitkin, in mid-November 1877 and was a 
complete loss. In early July 1878, Captain Houghton launched his new steamer City of 
Aitkin from Aitkin and ran her for over five years on a packet service to Grand Rapids 
until late October 1883 (Aitkin Age 1883f; Brainerd Tribune 1877, 1878a-b; St. Cloud 
Journal 1 870; Saint Paul Daily Pioneer 1 870). 

Captain Houghton began construction on the shallow draft 85 foot-long and 14 foot wide 
sternwheel steamer Fawn in 1881 and she was launched in 1882. She joined the City of 
Aitkin to establish the 'Houghton Line' in service between Aitkin, Sandy Lake, and 
Grand Rapids (Hart 1952, 11). In August 1884 Fawn successfully undertook an 
unexpected outing down river from Aitkin "to Old Crow Wing [on] Friday afternoon in 
order to try the water, which was found to be of good depth. A party of about twenty-five 
gentlemen accepted the invitation of Capt. Houghton and accompanied him on the trip, 
enjoying it very much." MHM surmises the reason behind the excursion - 'to try the 
water' with 25 men - was organized by Houghton in the hopes of expanding his 
business downriver and proving to potential clients that it was possible. Captain 
Houghton headed further downriver, this time to Brainerd where "with his steamer Fawn 
and barge, arrived in port at 12:30 o'clock Thursday, Aug. 7th. The captain reports a 
good stage of water all the way down, except at Flat Rapids, just above the city. He had 

no trouble running French Rapids, there being plenty of water on them." MHM is 
delighted with this report, particularly since the account mentions that Fawn was towing 
a barge along with her for extra cargo-carrying capacity. Fawn kept moving downriver, 
when Captain Houghton traveled all the way to Fort Ripley by late August. Fawn 
returned to her regular Aitkin-Grand Rapids service in early September {Aitkin Age 
1884a-c). To MHM's knowledge, no other large Headwaters Mississippi River steamer 
attempted to travel downriver to Crow Wing County and beyond. 

Fawn at her Aitkin morrings next to a wanigan. This mooring place could be located where the Aitkin County 

Campground and boat launch are currently situated or at the confluence of the Mississippi and Mud (Ripple) 

Rivers. Andy Gibson is in the background (HE5.1 1Fr2, Minnesota Historical Society, digitized by MHM). 

Captain Christopher Columbus Sutton purchased Fawn from Captain Houghton in April 
1885 (Aitkin Age 1885a). At the end of that year's commercial season it was reported 
the Fawn had: 

A long and most successful business season. ..She started on her first trip April 28th and 
has made a trip each week since, several times having made two round trips per week. 
The Fawn is 85 feet long and fourteen feet beam and when loaded draws too much 
water for the low stages on the Upper Mississippi. To obviate this fault and also give her 
a greater tonnage, Capt. Sutton has drawn her from the water, and has begun extensive 
alterations upon her. She will be cut in two from bow to stern and widened five feet 
which will also necessitate her being lengthened ten feet to retain good proportions. She 
will be at once dismantled and an elegant cabin built and when thus thoroughly 
remodeled, refitted, and furnished she will carry forty tons of freight and seventy cabin 
passengers and draw thus loaded only twelve inches of water. The present powerful 
engines will be all sufficient to move her at a rate of speed which will be all that is 
desired and her capacity being thus enlarged she will be prepared to enter the river 
trade at the opening of navigation next spring in a manner that will enable her to come in 
for her share of the trade. The rapid settlement of the fine lands between Aitkin and 
Grand Rapids makes the trade of the upper river greater each year and it will continue to 
expand for years to come (Aitkin Age 1885b). 

Fawn operated between Aitkin and Grand Rapids through the 1893 commercial season. 
The problem-ridden year of 1894 for Fawn showed her lying on the bottom of the 
Mississippi River near the confluence of the Mud (Ripple) River in mid-April after the 
winter ice had cleared - she was showing her age. Fawn was raised by mid-June but 
sunk again by mid-August, and raised again later in the month. In early November north 
of Jacobson, "Fawn struck a snag in the river just below the mouth of the Swan [River] 
on Thursday, and sank in the channel". To MHM's knowledge, Fawn remained sunk in 
the Headwaters Mississippi River from this point on, apparently with her upper deck 
removed to ensure her remains were not a hazard to navigation. Further, it has been 
reported that in 1942 the wreck was blown apart by dynamite in an attempt to retrieve 
iron for the war effort {Aitkin Age 1894a, 1894c-f, Trunt 1993, 100). 

Steamboat Fawn and Mississippi Landing 

In the morning of 16 September 2012 MHM launched the research boat at Jacobson 
Campground and headed south to the Mississippi Landing area, the location of two 
maritime archaeological sites recognized during the MRACS Project in 2010. The 
pilings that comprise both sites (21-AK0115, 21-AK0116) were more exposed due to the 
low water conditions than they were in 2010. MHM recorded sonar imagery of the area 
and investigated the two anomalies (MRACS 237 and 238) that might have been the 
Fawn wreck site near the mouth of the Swan River and the area further south. 

MHM's Christopher Olson operating the boat at the Mississippi Landing site location north of Jacobson during the 

ACS Project. 

The Mississippi Landing Logging Pier Site (21-AK01 16) during the ACS Project. The pilings are more visible when 

compared to the 2010 MRACS Prooject.. 

Part of the Mississippi Landing Railroad Spur and Bridge Remains site (21 -AK01 1 5) during low water conditions. 
This section shows the remains of the bridge supports in the river channel and the riverbank. 

Upon reviewing the 2010 MRACS sonar footage and re-visiting the area in 2012, MHM 
has determined that Anomalies 237 and 238 are not the remains of the steamer Fawn. 
Further, if the remains of the Fawn survive in any fashion, they are buried deep enough 
in the silt that a sub-bottom profiler (if she is in deeper water) or ground penetrating 
radar (if she is in a siltbank exposed during low water) would be required to locate her - 
probably south of the Mississippi Landing Logging Pier Site (21-AK0116) between the 
mouth of the Swan River and the town of Jacobson. MHM took several photographs of 
21-AK0115 and 21-AK0116, allowing a more precise count of surviving pilings that 
comprise the sites, and filed an updated Minnesota Archaeological Site Form with the 
OSA. Lastly, before MHM landed the boat at Jacobson Campground, a sonar pass was 
made approximately .5 miles north of launch site to re-investigate Anomaly 242, an 
object that MHM called a 'boat-shaped feature' in the MRACS Report. The object was 
no longer there, indicating that it was probably a submerged tree that had moved, 
shifted, or washed away during high water. 

Steamboat City of Aitkin/George H. Houghton 

To replace the burned Pokegama, Captain Houghton constructed the steamer City of 
Aitkin (mentioned above) in Aitkin, launching her in early July 1878. The new 
sternwheeler was 120 feet long with a 22-foot beam and advertised weekly trips to 
Pokegama Falls for the remainder of the 1878 season (Brainerd Tribune 1878a-b; Hart 
1952, 11). For the next few years, the City of Aitkin operated on the Headwaters 
Mississippi River between Aitkin and Grand Rapids and rated a mention in Captain 
Glazier's canoe trip on 4 August 1881: 

"We met the City of Aitkin, a small steamboat, late in the afternoon, on its way from 

Aitkin to Grand Rapids. This pioneer craft was commanded by Captain Houghton of the 

former place, and deserves special mention as the first boat propelled by steam which 

we had thus far seen in the descent of the river. The clatter of the stem-wheel, much 

puffing and blowing; followed by the report of several shots fired by sporting passengers, 

betokened the approach of this wonder of the Upper Mississippi. The captain of the 

Aitkin and his gallant crew must have been well advised of our movements, for, as soon 

as they had reached a point opposite the one we had taken on the shore, they saluted 

with several rounds of cheers, supplemented by a general discharge of firearms. This 

compliment was reciprocated on our part by three cheers and a. ..yell for Captain 

Houghton (Glazier 1887, 131-132). 

Low water conditions throughout 1883 caused navigational problems for the City of 

Aitkin and not only because of submerged hazards such as rapids and snags - logs 

from the northern logging camps were not moving due to the lack of water and clogged 

up the river channel at times. The low water also caused the steamer to sink at her 

moorings in late September when she hit bottom and began to list. She was raised, 

repaired, and re-entered river service within weeks. However, within two weeks of her 

return to service, she had to off-load a heavy cargo to the Fawn, a vessel with a lighter 

draft that could operate more easily in the low water, so that the goods could reach 

Grand Rapids from Aitkin (Aitkin Age 1883a-e). City of Aitkin left service after the 1883 

commercial season, abandoned in the river at Aitkin. 

The Mississippi River Transportation Company (also known as W.E. Neal & Co. of 
Grant Rapids, principals W.E. Neal of Grand Rapids and W.H. Eustis of Minneapolis) 
purchased the City of Aitkin from Captain George Houghton in 1886. The boat's former 

engineer, A.A. Storer, was hired to restore her to working condition. Storer found her 
hull to be in excellent condition, while he re-built her superstructure and fitted her with 
new machinery manufactured by D.M. Swain of Stillwater, delivered by the railroad in 
late July. It was also noted "a fine stick of timber thirty-six feet long, to be used for an 
engine bed, for the Aitkin City, passed through town yesterday for the levee". The 
reconstructed steamer measured 115 feet long, 21 feet in the beam, had a 14-inch 
draft, and could carry 100 tons of cargo. Unofficially referred to as Aitkin City by the 
local press, she was launched on 1 September by her old captain and builder, Captain 
George Houghton. She took her first trip to Grand Rapids on 7 September, returning on 
10 September. By mid-October the steamer was known as the George H. Houghton 
and she remained busy throughout the 1886 commercial season. During one last trip to 
Grand Rapids, where she was meant to spend the winter, she became frozen-in just 
above Crooked Rapids, roughly halfway to her destination {Aitkin Age 1886a-k, 1887a). 

George H. Houghton regularly carried freight and passengers on the Headwaters 
Mississippi River during 1887 and 1888. In November 1888, the steamboat attempted 
another 'too-late-in-the-season-run' and was stuck in ice near John Clark's Landing 20 
miles north of Aitkin for the winter. Her perishable cargo was placed in Clark's cellar for 
safekeeping. On 26 March 1889, the steamer burned to her waterline and sank. It was 
noted that the steamboat was partially insured and it was suspected that the vessel was 
a victim of arson {Aitkin Age April 23, 1887a-o, 19 May 1888a-c, 1888e-i, 1889). 

During the afternoon of 16 September 2012, MHM launched the research boat at 
Waldeck Landing north of Aitkin in order to investigate MRACS Anomalies 133 and 134. 
MHM determined that since the location of the City of Aitkin/George H. Houghton was 
vaguely described as burned "20 miles above Aitkin" (Aitkin County Park Commission 
1977, 2) by one source, these anomalies required further scrutiny to determine their 
nature. The difference in river conditions from 2010 to 2012 was obvious in the 2.5 
miles MHM traveled northward from Waldeck since the rapids that cover nearly this 
entire area were consistently exposed on the port and starboard sides of the boat along 
the way. Anomaly 133 was encountered first and was completely exposed because of 
low water - it was a group of large stones and part of the rapids. Anomaly 134 was also 
a disappointment since it was a large rocky sandbank. 

Anomaly 133, exposed during low 

water conditions. This group of 

boulders, along with features in the 

river channel, created an anomaly 

that resembled a boat shape. 

On 7 October 2012, MHM received permission from the landowner at the former 
location of John Clark's Landing to access the Mississippi River in order to search for 
evidence of the steamer wreck. Historical accounts claimed the City of Aitkin/George H. 
Houghton wreck was often exposed during low water. An Aitkin County resident 
recounted "the boat George Houghton. ..was burned there about 300 feet above this 
portage [near John Clark's Landing]. It was frozen in there on its last trip in the fall. The 
story is that so much was taken off the boat during the winter that it was burned to hide 
evidence. Several say they have seen remains of the boat when the river is low" The 
2010 MRACS sonar did not reveal any anomalies in this area that suggested a wreck, 
therefore MHM conducted a visual survey of the north side of the river with nothing 
found. MHM then swam across the river using fins and snorkels to investigate the south 
side riverbank and the several silt banks and rocky areas located there. The river depth 
on the south side of the river was very low from the bank to three-quarters across the 
channel above 'Clark's Cut-Off' that "used to be a portage which the river cut through in 
1903" (Sanford 1948). After a thorough visual search of the area where the cut-off 
began and a distance upriver, the only evidence MHM found of a possible wreck site 
was one fire-burned brick. If City of Aitkin/George H. Houghton still exists under the 
siltbanks at this location, a sub-bottom profiler or ground penetrating radar will be 
required to locate her. 

A view of the location of Clark's Landing, looking north. MHM staff swam across the river at this point to access the 
south side riverbank to search for evidence of the City of Aitkin/George H. Houghton wreck. 


Left: The Headwaters Mississippi looking downriver toward the northwest and the site of Clark's Landing. This area 

is 300 feet above the cut-off where the City of Aitkin/George H. Houghton reportedly burned. 
Right: Olson conducting a visual search of the southern side of the river; the photograph is looking upriver toward 

the southeast. 

Left: MHM located only one burned brick fragment in the area where the City of Aitkin/George H. Houghton 

reportedly burned and sank - no other cultural remains that might be linked to a wreck were found. 

Right: One railroad tie was found in the river channel nearby, the only other evidence of historical cultural remains 

in the area. 


Left: Part of the oxbow of the Mississippi River that was cut off from the main river channel when 'Clark's Portage' 

broke through in 1903. 

Right: This hollowed-out log was located by MHM in the oxbow created by 'Clark's Cut-Off. This type of find is 

challenging since it looks like a dugout canoe, but is probably just part of a rotted tree. 


Tripp Landing (21-AK0123) 

During MHM's review of the 2010 MRACS sonar footage for the ACS Project, it was 
mentioned in the research notebook that some possible pilings were seen at the 
location of Tripp Landing near a cut-off that had been a portage during the steamboat 
era. An Aitkin County resident witnessed the river pushing through at this point and 
recounted the event in 1948. "The next bend in the river was on the old Tripp 
place. ..called the Tripp portage. ..This portage went out in 1942. This is of course 
modern history but I saw that. Went down twice a day at first and later once a day to 
watch it go out. It surely was interesting altho [sic] we knew it meant a lot to the farmer 
owning that farm. All the land was cut off and he soon sold it and moved away" (Sanford 
1948). On 3 October 2012, MHM took the Great River Road to the location of Tripp 
Landing and documented 16 surviving pilings that are the remains of Tripp Landing, a 
place where steamboats stopped for decades. It was even noted in an 1888 newspaper 
"Frank Tripp came down form the claim on the steamer yesterday" (Aitkin Age 1888d). 
MHM filed a Minnesota Archaeological Site Form with the OSA and received a site 
number for Tripp Landing (21-AK0123). 

Tripp Landing, on the north side of the river, looking to the west. 



Great River Road 

MHM's sketch of the pilings that comprise the Tripp Landing site (21-AK0123). 

Burton and Anderson/Hodgeden and MacDonald Mill and Landing (21-AK0124) 

In late April 1892 the machinery for the Burton & Anderson Saw and Planing Mill was 
loaded onto the steamer Andy Gibson at Cedar Creek, 12 miles below Aitkin, for 
delivery to the mill site. The September 1892 Sanborn Map indicates that the mill was 
located at the end of a railroad spur with lumber storage piles along the track and a 
platform behind the mill. Sanborn noted the mill had one circular saw mill and a planer 
that were operated by a 40 horse power engine fueled by sawdust and shavings. By 
mid-May 1894, the mill was owned by the partnership of Hodgeden & McDonald. In 
March 1895 a wanigan - a houseboat used for cooking and supplies during logging 
runs - owned by the Northern Boom Company caught fire on the north side of the 
Mississippi River from the mill, but caused to damage to the business across the river 
{Aitkin Age 1 892a-b, 1 894b, 1 895a). 

The Burton and Anderson Saw and Planing Mill as documented by the Sanborn Insurance Company in September 

1892 (Sanborn Map Company 1892). 


In early June 1894, the new steamer Swan owned by J. M. Markham, was working on 
the Headwaters Mississippi River. In late June 1895, Swan and her barge were 
commissioned to transport lumber from the Hodgeden & McDonald Mill to Sandy River 
and Sandy Lake where the US Government was constructing a dam. It was noted that 
Swan made her way from Sandy River to Aitkin in 1 1 hours on her return home (Aitkin 
Age 1895b). The 1898 Sanborn Map indicates that the Hodgeden & McDonald Mill 
remained as it was mapped in 1892, although an iron swing bridge was now in place 
across the Mississippi River next to the mill. The 1902 Sanborn Map indicates that the 
company had expanded its stores of cut lumber to the east, with large piles awaiting 
shipment, and a large shed had been constructed near the river. By 1908 it is apparent 
that the company was no longer in business. 

This steamer Swan newspaper ad from 1895 is 

informative in several ways, indicating the steamer had 

been sold to W. Chase by J. M. Markham, that she was 

conducting packet and excursion service, that she had 

established warehouse space and moorings at the 

Northern Pacific facility, the names of her crew, and 

whom her shipping agents were in Aitkin (Aitkin Age 


Tile Steamer Swan, 

- — 

" JPlies between Aitkin and Sandy lake 
"and up river points. ■ \ 


Arrangements for Transporting 
Preight can be mada with Hugh ^fcr 
Efwan at the Age Office ov W. S. Cluff 
at the Clark House. ' - ' * 

The Swan has excellent freight stor- 
age facilities at its Docks in the North- 
ern Pacific 1 Warehouse. '.. " 

Excursion trips made as 

WM. HAY, Engineer. W. Chase, Prop. 
, • Ray Hay, Pilot. ■ 

Left: The Hodgeden and McDonald Saw and Planing Mill in January 1 898 that also indicates the location of the 

new swing bridge across the Mississippi River (Sanborn Insurance Company 1898). 

Right: The swing bridge over the Mississippi River and floating cut timber near the Hodgeden and McDonald Saw 

and Planing Mill. Note the company's lumber shoot on the leftside of the image (Klee and Lindquist 1971, 41). 


During the 2010 MRACS Project MHM noted possible pilings just upriver from the 
Punteney Bridge and County Highway 1 in Aitkin, but the sonar image was very 'busy' 
due to a large amount of snags evident at the location and pin-pointing any cultural 
remains was not possible. On 17 September 2012, while MHM was boating on the river 
to investigate the possible location of the steamer wreck Walter Taylor, several pilings 
were exposed during the low water conditions. On 7 October, MHM conducted a 
terrestrial survey of the area and located the remains of the saw and planing mill that 
once occupied the land, including the base and the remains of its log chute. MHM filed a 
Minnesota Archaeological Site Form with the OSA and received a site number for the 
Burton & Anderson/Hodgeden & McDonald Saw and Planing Mill, 21-AK0124. 

Below: MHM's sketch of the Burton and 

Anderson/Hodgeden and McDonald Landing 

and Mill site. 

Right: The lumber pilings and concrete 

foundations of the mill. 

Mississippi River Channel 

••*■*' N 




This metal circle was part of the mill complex. 

In this 2010 sonar image the supports of the current 
Punteney Bridge are seen at the bottom of the graphic. 

The Burton and Anderson/Hodgeden and McDonald 

Mill and Landing pilings (circled in red) are mixed in with 

river detritus but do cast shadows to the riverbank. This 

kind of detritus makes sonar images recorded in 

dynamic river environments difficult to interpret. 

Pilings and a piece of metal rail are the only evidence of the landing area for the mill; note the amount of snags 

mixed in with the pilings. 


Steamer Wreck Swan Assessment (21-AK0084) 

On 26 September 2012, MHM conducted a brief visual inspection of the Swan wreck in 
the Headwaters Mississippi River near its confluence with the Ripple River. One issue 
noticed by MHM was damage to the wreck's already-worn keelson and two planks that 
have suffered from vandalism. One plank may have been displaced from the wreck by 
ice, but another plank had been dragged from the river and dumped on a siltbank - an 
obvious sign of vandalism. MHM filed a site form update with the office of the State 

The small broken timber at the 90-degree angle is the Swan's keelson, intact during MHM's last wreck 


These two timbers have been displaced from the Swan wreck. The timber in the foreground was dragged from the 
river by an unknown vandal - drag marks were still evident at the time of this assessment. 


Steamer Walter Taylor and The Red Mill Wreck (21-AK0122) 

The first news of the steamer Walter Taylor appeared in late July 1895 when it was 
reported the "Guff Bros, and James Taylor are building a steamboat in Hodgeden & 
McDonald's mill yard, which is to ply on the Mississippi between Aitkin and Grand 
Rapids, also below Aitkin if business will warrant it. The boat is to be 15x50 ft. in 
dimensions, and will handily carry 50 tons of freight. The work of building her is under 
the personal supervision of Mr. Taylor, who, we understand, will captain her when 
finished. The work will be pushed with all possible dispatch, and the boat be completed 
in time for the fall traffic". The hull was launched on 17 August and the progress on the 
vessel's completion was of interest. It was reported "Capt. James Taylor is rapidly 
pushing the work on the new steamer Palace. The engine is in position, the hurricane 
deck is built, the pilot house erected, and the captain will soon be in a position to clew 
up the mizzen mast, splice the main brace and set sail for Grand Rapids". While the 
sailing ship metaphor is imaginative, the reference to the steamer Palace is more 
interesting, since Walter Taylor was initially known by that name. The steamer was 
completed by mid-September 1895, and "Capt. Taylor took the Palace for a warming up 
spin last Wednesday. Quite a delegation of citizens, including Hon. Muck Wa Ninne, of 
Sandy Lake, went along and the boat behaved very nicely". Two days later, "the Palace 
started on her initial trip to Sandy Lake yesterday morning, with Raymond Hay at the 
wheel, Capt. Taylor on the quarter deck and Rosey acting as ballast amidships. Capt. 
Taylor scorns all evil omens as he started on Friday the 13th day of the month". By mid- 
September, "Guff & Taylor's new steamboat was duly christened. having her name 
painted on the pilot house by the artistic brush of Frank J. Smith. She will hereafter be 
known as the Walter Taylor" (Aitkin Age 1895d-h). 

Sternwheeler Walter Taylor on the Headwaters Mississippi River (Aitkin County Historical Society). 

This ad is an example of the generic 
representations of steamboats in old 
newspapers. Walter Taylor is not the 
majestic-looking sidewheeler depicted 
here (Aitkin Age 1895i). 



Walter Taylor 


yoor freight o« 

Walter Taylor opened the Headwaters Mississippi River navigation season in 1896 with 
a trip downriver to Brainerd to pick up two wanigans for transport to Grand Rapids under 
consignment of the Northern Boom Company. During this trip, apparently Walter Taylor 
became the first larger steamer to travel under the new swing bridge at Aitkin, with the 
County Commissioner supervising the mechanics. In early September, Walter Taylor 
emulated the sinking of the City of Aitkin due to low water conditions. The steamer was 
moored on the north side of the Mississippi River and she slowly settled on her side as 
the water lowered. It was determined she was "moored too close to the shore" but 
would be righted and over-hauled before her return to service. Walter Taylor operated 
regularly throughout 1897, with service to Sandy Lake, Grand Rapids, and even 
pleasure excursions with music provided. Once again, in early October 1897, Walter 
Taylor sank at her moorings in 12 feet of water near Sandy Lake. Her captain and crew 
off-loaded her cargo safely - including a Jersey cow - and raised her in two days for a 
return trip to Aitkin. The steamer continued serving the people of Aitkin and lower Itasca 
Counties throughout 1898 and 1899, even being chartered by local engineer D. M. 
Falconer who held a contract to construct a bridge (Aitkin Age, 5 September 1896a-b, 
1897a-l, 1898a-b, 1899a-b; Aitkin Republican 1899a-b). 

Mentions of Walter Taylor working on the Headwaters Mississippi River disappear from 
the local newspapers after October 1899 and news of her abandonment was recorded 
49 years later. Aitkin resident John Schroeder was an eyewitness to the slow sinking of 
Walter Taylor, according to his wife. Mr. Schroeder worked at Gyde's Mill, located 
downriver from the confluence of the Mississippi and Ripple Rivers. Mrs. Schroeder 
reported, "my husband worked at Gyde's mill and saw the Walter Taylor sink at the 
mouth of the Mud [Ripple] River. It sprang a leak and Mr. Guff went down every day for 
a month to bail it out, hoping they could save it, but it sank and in a few years was 
covered with sand". Another account by Mrs. C. H. Eggers claimed, "The boat was sunk 
& left there or rather never rebuilt. It was named Walter Taylor". Mrs. Eggers does not 
pinpoint the boat's location but one newspaper mention of Walter Taylor is particularly 
interesting since she was "tied up at the spot where Knox's warehouse stood before the 
cyclone struck it. The steamer had in tow the boom company's wanigan containing 
Foreman Dan McMahon and crew, who will take down a drive from the upper river. The 
steamboat left the same day" (Aitkin Republican 1898; Eggers 1948; Schroeder 1948). 

Due to the above mentions that reference the possible location of the wreck of the 
steamer Walter Taylor, MHM was particularly interested in the section of river near the 
confluence of the Mississippi and Ripple Rivers where the Knox warehouse once stood 
- and consequently about 200 yards downriver from the location of the wreck Swan. 


During the 2010 MRACS Project, MHM identified two anomalies, close to each other, 
near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ripple Rivers. On 17 September 2012 MHM 
boated to MRACS Anomalies 20 and 21 only to determine that they were not the 
remains of the wreck. However, in 2008, MHM had conducted a walking survey of this 
area and located some cultural remains in the form of small artifacts, evidence of a 
mooring place, burned brick concentrations, and worked wooden planks during low 
water conditions. On 26 September 2012 MHM, with permission from the landowner at 
this spot on the Mississippi and Ripple Rivers, accessed the area by land. Olson 
surveyed the river by snorkel from the confluence of the two rivers to roughly 200 yards 
downriver and Merriman photographed the area examined in 2008 prior to opening a 
test trench - again, in low water conditions. Within 20 minutes of clearing silt from a 
plank and a smaller timber that was wedged above a large snag that was protruding out 
of the siltbank, Merriman located what appeared to be a floor - part of a boat frame that 
is attached to the bottom of a hull. 

MHM saw this beam, and a small beam in the water next to it, in 2008 during low water conditions. 

MHM also saw these two beams with a log - in this context, a snag - wedged underneath it. 


By the end of the workday, MHM had uncovered what appeared to be a wreck with 
bottom hull planking with four floors attached to them, as well as ceiling planking. MHM 
returned the next day and extended the L-shaped test trench toward the west in search 
of a gunwale - and located it within one hour. Until MHM located the gunwale, the 
identification of the site as a wreck remained in question since it could have been part of 
a building that had washed into the river, maybe even from the Knox warehouse that 
was reportedly destroyed by a tornado. However, the remains that MHM discovered has 
a gunwale with two iron U-bolts that that were used as cleats or as attachments for 
hogging chains. 

MHM documented the portion of the wreck exposed in the test trench, established a 
datum, and filed a Minnesota Archaeological Site Form with the OSA and received a 
site number for the Red Mill Wreck (21-AK0122). The reasoning behind the name 'Red 
Mill Wreck' references the informal name given to the G. W. Knox Saw and Planing Mill. 
In early September 1890, "the spur track to the red mill and the old steamboat landing is 
completed and ready for business". Also, the steamer Andy Gibson used to moor at this 
site prior to that time since she "stove a hole in her side on her down trip from Sandy 
Lake, but the heroic work of her crew saved her from sinking. She lies at her old dock 
near the red mill". MHM determined that the Knox Mill was also known as the Red Mill in 
a newspaper article written by G. W. Knox's son Walter F. Knox. Knox wrote that his 
father and uncle had a disagreement while at the mill and he referred to his father as 
"G. W. Knox owner of the "Red Mill" at the mouth of the Mud River" (Aitkin Age 1890; 
Knox 1960). Therefore, until MHM can conduct further research on the site, what cannot 
be determined is whether the wreck is Walter Taylor, another steamer, a wanigan hull, 
or possibly a flatboat/ferry. Initial indications suggest the wreck has a very shallow depth 
of hold, suggesting she is barge-like and might not be a steamer hull. 

MHM's test trench that exposed the Red Mill Wreck. Fourflorrs are seen aong with bottom hull planking, the 
broken end of which is resting on a snag wedged under the wreck. 


The northern end of the trench as it looks in reference to the beams in the water. In 2008 the beams in the water 
were completely exposed due to lower water conditions at that time.. 

Left: A view of the test trench facing east. The long 
beam that disappears under part of the wreck is a 

floor, part of the vessel's frame. The planks it 

disappears under are either ceiling planking or deck 

planking - or both. It appears the depth of hold of 

this wreck is shallow, a characteristic that suggests 

she is a flatboat or wanigan. The function of the 

metal rod protruding out of the trench wall and 

crossing over the wreck is unknown at this time. 

The wreck's gunwale with two iron attachments for 
hogging chains or they may act as cleats. 



The Red Mill Wreck (21-AK0122). Probing in the area to the left (north) of the trench indicates that the wreck 
extends at least 30-40 feet in that direction and it extends some distance to the right (south) as well. 

Andy Gibson Port Side Investigation (21-AK0109) 

MHM has been assessing and documenting the Andy Gibson Wreck Site since August 
2008 and with the assistance of Minnesota's National Register Archaeologist David 
Mather, successfully nominated the site to the National Register of Historic Places in 
August 2012. The ACS Project goal for the Andy Gibson site was to determine the 
extent of survival of the wreck's port (left) side, part of the site that is consistently 
underwater even in low water conditions. In brief, the Andy Gibson wreck site is a 
partially dry nautical archaeological site that has two components - the steamer wreck 
herself and a 'dry dock' platform constructed under her to prevent her from grounding 
and tilting during low water conditions, like the City of Aitkin before her and Walter 
Taylor years later. The presence of the dry dock platform adds a component to the site 
that unique in the United States. Further, MHM has classified the site as 'partially dry' 
because the starboard (right) side of the wreck is embedded in the riverbank with 
several feet of clay/mud/dirt encasing her. MHM has sunk four test trenches in the 
riverbank to document the gunwale and internal construction of the hull. In one trench 
the hull is completely intact with decking in place and in another trench she is nearly 
intact but with some decking missing. The area with missing deck allowed access to the 
inner hull and MHM was able to document the wreck's construction attributes 1 . 


For more information on the maritime history of the Andy Gibson, and MHM's documentation and analysis of the 
Andy Gibson wreck site, see MHM's Andy Gibson Starboard Gunwale and Deck Excavation, Andy Gibson 
Excavation and NRHP Nomination Report, Mississippi River Aitkin County Survey Report, and the 2008 Nautical 
Archaeological Assessment of Steamer Wrecks Swan (21-AK0084) and Andy Gibson (21-AK0109) in Aitkin, 


On 17-19 and 27 September and 3 October 2012, MHM examined the port side of the 
Andy Gibson wreck site and determined her parameters using snorkels, SCUBA, 
underwater digital video, and triangulation. MHM's research plan for the 2012 season 
centered on questions formulated during the previous seasons of work, particularly a 
sonar image recorded during 201 0's MRACS Project. Before the project, MHM 
postulated that certain construction attributes of the wreck might have survived in the 
river channel; this work determined their presence or absence. In particular, one 
attribute in the sonar image located in the port stern area of the wreck site was 
interesting; MHM hoped it was a cylinder timber, a large wooden beam that held the 
steamer's sternwheel. Upon investigation by SCUBA it has been determined the 
attribute is not a cylinder timber but a portion of the port side skeg, part of the hull that 
supports a vessel's rudder. Andy Gibson's port side and master rudder were illegally 
removed from the wreck in 1968 while the starboard side rudder was illegally removed 
in 2006. 

MHM's Olson paused during a dive on the port side of the Andy Gibson wreck near a cradle piling. 

Olson filming the port side of the wreck. 


MHM's Merriman investigating the bow area of the Andy Gibson. 

Another question MHM had about the extent of the port side survival of the wreck was 
whether the gunwale was intact. The port side exists throughout the length of the wreck, 
but only to the turn of the bilge; the side of the vessel above that point is gone. The 
condition of the surviving structural components - cocked hats, frames, futtocks, and 
chine clamp - show extreme wear from over 110 years of erosion by the river current, 
silt movement, snag damage, and ice action. These components survive - but just 
barely in many areas. During this work, MHM was able to determine that the stempost 
still exists but has shifted away from the wreck. The keelson survives in the bow and the 
deadwood is still attached to it. Originally the deadwood would butt up against the 
stempost but they are now separated. It was observed that a number of iron fasteners 
that hold the floors to the bottom hull planking have fragmented ceiling planking 
attached to them. Further, some intact ceiling planking was recorded on the port side's 
forward quarter. Another question MHM answered during this work is the number of 
platform pilings that are extant in the river channel: 15. Lastly, MHM discovered 
evidence of Andy Gibson's logging past with the presence of a logging chain in the bilge 
near the bow. MHM took the Andy Gibson data collected during the ACS Project and 
augmented the existing site plan and filed a site update with the OSA. 

This profile of the starboard side of the Andy Gibson 

wreck indicates the proper position and shape of the 

steamer's original construction. This diagram is a useful 

tool for identifying the surviving - but damaged - 

structural components on the wreck's port side. 

Main Deck Planks 

Turn of the Bilge 


A futtock with iron fasteners. 


The remains of a futtock positioned between two cocked hats. 

Two cocked hats remain in place with an iron fastener connecting them; the futtock between them has eroded 



The angular design of the cocked hat is easily seen above. 

A futtock that may have evidence of burning. 


An iron fastener with a bolt that held the chine clamp in place. 

Two cocked hats with the remains of a futtock visible, along with the iron fasteners that held the chine clamp in 






|];lSS!l! i 

MHM's /4ndy Gibson site plan incorporating data collection from 2008-2012. The bow is to the right and the stern is 

to the left. The wreck is 1 32 feet long and 35.5 feet wide at her widest point. The four long objects with texture are 

snags stuck on or under the wreck. The long, thin object with several holes running down it is a metal post for a 

road sign and the small rectangular object with legs is an old metal sign. 



Maritime Heritage Minnesota's focus on the Headwaters Mississippi River will continue 
and specific suggestions for future maritime historical and nautical archaeological work 
have been formulated. 

• 1. Red Mill Wreck (21-AK0122). The documentation of this wreck is MHM's 
priority for Headwaters Mississippi River nautical archaeological research. In 
order to continue the documentation of this site, certain conditions must be met. 
Due to the condition of the soft wood the wreck is comprised of, normal 
underwater excavation using water dredges during normal or high water 
conditions is not an option for this site. Therefore, any work on the wreck must be 
conducted during low water and traditional terrestrial techniques will be 
employed. This stipulation makes scheduling an excavation project difficult 
because Mississippi River water levels cannot be predicted precisely. MHM 
would like to establish an endowment dedicated to the investigation of this site 
that can be utilized during low water conditions. 

• 2. Andy Gibson (21-AK0109). MHM will continue condition assessments and 
the documentation the starboard gunwale of the wreck encased in the riverbank 
and the central portions of the wreck that are always submerged as funds 
become available. 

• 3. Walter Taylor. Depending on the interpretation and possible identification of 
the Red Mill Wreck, MHM may or may not continue a search for the Walter 
Taylor wreck. If it is determined that that the Red Mill Wreck is a wanigan or other 
vessel type, MHM will then search the area to upriver from the wreck toward the 
wreck of the Swan. 

• 4. City of Aitkin/George H. Houghton. MHM would like to return to the area 
across and upriver from Clark's Landing to search for the City of Aitkin/George H. 
Houghton wreck. If MHM can secure funds to access a ground penetrating radar 
unit this research will be conducted. 

• 5. Aitkin's Maritime Sites. The Andy Gibson, Swan, Red Mill Wreck, and the 
Burton and Anderson/Hodgeden and McDonald Saw and Planing Mill site 
exemplify the richness of the maritime history of the Headwaters Mississippi 
River than runs through Aitkin. Other archaeological remains have been 
identified by MHM in the area near the Red Mill Wreck that are part of the G. W. 
Knox Saw and Planing Mill - the 'old red mill' itself. Other mill remains are 
located near the Aitkin Campground and are part of the W. A. Rogers Planing 
Mill or the Illinois Cooperage Company. Evidence of the E. A. Gyde Hoop and 
Heading Mill probably survive east of the Burton and Anderson/Hodgeden and 
McDonald mill site. The potential for research in Aitkin is evident; the physical 
remains of the town's past are extensive and accessible. MHM plans to continue 
researching these sites and the area, possibly resulting in the area gaining 
recognition as an historic district. 



In order to continue investigating Aitkin County's nautical and maritime archaeological 
sites, MHM will design projects that will utilize both underwater and terrestrial 
documentation techniques when funding is secured. River water levels are always a 
consideration in the project design process due to the soft wood Headwaters Mississippi 
River wrecks are comprised of, particularly since careless excavation can easily destroy 
these large complex artifacts. Traditional underwater excavation techniques that employ 
water dredges or airlifts will, in effect, tear apart the wrecks. When using SCUBA, MHM 
cannot use these methods but careful cleaning of certain areas utilizing the river's 
current will allow documentation using triangulation, measured drawings, and digital 
video. In consideration of Andy Gibson and the Red Mill Wreck, low water conditions will 
be taken advantage of and trenches will be sunk into the siltbanks and riverbank where 
appropriate - if funds are available. MHM hopes to establish the Aitkin County 
Shipwrecks Endowment that would allow the exploitation of low water conditions without 
extended planning that funding sources like grants require. This endowment would also 
provide for the rental of a ground penetrating radar until to continue the search for the 
City of Aitkin/George H. Houghton near Clark's Landing. 

Maritime Heritage Minnesota's completion of the Aitkin County Shipwrecks Project has 
added greatly to the knowledge base regarding the Headwaters Mississippi River. Of 
the four known Mississippi River wrecks in Minnesota, three of them are in Aitkin -Andy 
Gibson, Swan, and the Red Mill Wreck - and the fourth is the J.S. near Battle Axe 
Island in Houston County. If the Red Mill Wreck is a steamer, then Minnesota has four 
of the seven known steamer sites in the entirety of the Mississippi River, the others 
being the War Eagle in Wisconsin, 'Natchez Watercraft 3' in Mississippi, and '3CT243' 
in Arkansas. If the Red Mill Wreck is a wanigan or other type of vessel, it will be unique 
among Minnesota's riverine archaeology and history. The data collected during this 
work allows MHM to expand and augment our collective knowledge of Minnesota's finite 
submerged and maritime cultural resources. The discovery of the Red Mill Wreck, along 
with the recognition of Tripp Landing and the Burton and Anderson/Hodgeden and 
McDonald Mill and Landing site further highlights the fact that Minnesota has the richest 
Mississippi River nautical and maritime history in terms of archaeological sites, and that 
it is focused hundreds of miles above the widely acknowledged 'head of navigation' of 
the upper Mississippi - Minneapolis. With further research, the Headwaters Mississippi 
River will continue to provide Minnesotans with a rich and fascinating story surrounding 
late 19 th and early 20 Century maritime history, riverine transportation, and waterborne 



Aitkin Age. 19 May 1883a; 2 June 1883b; 9 June 1883c; 13 October 1883d; 27 
October 1883e; 27 October 1883f; 16 August 1884a; 30 August 1884b; 6 
September 1884c; 25 April 1885a; 14 November 1885b; 26 June 1886a; 17 July 
1886b; 31 July 1886c; 4 September 1886d; 11 September 1886e; 18 September 
1886f; 25 September 1886g; 2 October 1886h; 16 October 1886i; 13 November 
1886J; 20 November 1886k; 23 April 1887a; 11 June 1887b; 18 June 1887c; 2 
July 1887d; 9 July 1887e; 16 July 1887f; 30 July 1887g; 13 August 1887h; 20 
August 1887i; 27 August 1887J; 10 September 1887k; 17 September 18871; 24 
September 1887m; 1 October 1887n; 12 November 1887o; 19 May 1888a; 2 
June 1888b; 28 July 1888c; 1 September 1888d; 8 September 1888e; 22 
September 1888f; 29 September 1888g; 27 October 1888h; 24 November 1888i; 
30 March 1889; 6 September 1890; 23 April 1892a; 30 April 1892b; 21 April 
1894a; 19 May 1894b; 24 June 1894c; 25 August 1894d; 1 September 1894e; 10 
November 1894f; 23 March 1895a; 29 June 1895b; 13 July 1895c; 3 August 
1895d; 17 August 1895e; August 24 1895f, 14 September 1895g; 21 September 
1895h; 26 October 1895i; 25 April 1896a; 5 September 1896b; 17 April 1897a; 
15 May 1897b; 22 May 1897c; 12 June 1897d; 19 June 1897e; 10 July 1897f; 17 
July 1897g; 24 July 1897h; 31 July 1897i; 18 September 1897J; 9 October 1897k; 
20 November 18971; 11 June 1898a; 18 June 1898b; 19 August 1899a; 12 
October 1899b. Aitkin, MN. 

Aitkin County Park Commission. 1977. The Mighty Mississippi. Aitkin County Park 
Commission: Aitkin, MN. 

Aitkin Republican. 16 June 1898; 1 June 1899a; 31 August 1899b. Aitkin, MN. 

Brainerd Tribune. 17 November 1877; 6 July 1878a; 13 July 1878b. Brainerd, MN 

Eggers, Mrs. C. H. 1948. Letter from Mrs. C. H. Eggers to Irving Hart, 18 November. 
Aitkin, MN. Irving Hart Letters Received, Manuscripts Collection, Minnesota 
Historical Society: St. Paul, MN. 

Glazier, Captain Willard. 1887. Down the Great River. Hubbard Brothers: Philadelphia, 

Hart, Irving H. 1952. Steamboating on Mississippi Headwaters. Minnesota History, 
XXXIII (Spring): 7-19. 

Hughes, Thomas. 1905. History of Steamboating on the Minnesota River. Collections of 
the Minnesota Historical Society, Volume X, Part 1: 131-163. 

Klee, A. O, and Dorothy Ratcliffe Lindquist. 1971. The Story of Mud River: A Chronicle 
of Aitkin, Minnesota 1871-1971. NP: Aitkin, MN. 

Knox, Walter F. 1960. Pioneer Days in Aitkin County. Aitkin Independent Age. 8 
December, 16. Aitkin, MN. 


Lytle, William M, and Forrest R. Holdcamper. 1975. Merchant Steam Vessels of the 
United States 1790-1868: "The Lytle-Holdcamper List." The Steamship Historical 
Society of America, Inc.: Staten Island, NY. 

Minnesota Historical Society Photograph Collection. St. Paul, MN. 

Sanford, Mrs. Robert W. 1948. Letter from Mrs. Robert W. Sanford to Irving Hart, 24 
October. Palisade, MN. Irving Hart Letters Received, Manuscripts Collection, 
Minnesota Historical Society: St. Paul, MN. 

Schroeder, Mrs. John. 1948. Letter from Mrs. John Schroeder to Irving Hart, 3 
September. Aitkin, MN. Irving Hart Letters Received, Manuscripts Collection, 
Minnesota Historical Society: St. Paul, MN. 

Shakopee Argus. 18 June 1864. Shakopee, MN. 

St. Cloud Journal. 21 April 1870. St. Cloud, MN. 

Saint Paul Daily Pioneer. 4 October 1870. St. Paul, MN. 

Trunt, Leo. 1993. Prosper, Can You Tell Me More? Gateway Press, Inc.: Baltimore, MD. 

Way, Jr., Frederick. 1994. Way's Packet Directory, 1848-1994. Sons and Daughters of 
Pioneer Rivermen, 1983; Revised Edition, Ohio University Press: Athens, OH.